LAS VEGAS — Five months after being awarded an NHL franchise, Las Vegas’ expansion team finally has a name. The Vegas Golden Knights will be the city’s first major professional sports team when they begin play in the 2017-18 season.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley made the announcement, alongside NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and team general manager George McPhee, in front of a raucous crowd outside the recently constructed T-Mobile Arena, the team’s new home, located just off the Las Vegas Strip.
“We now have an identity,” Foley told ESPN.com just before the announcement. “My whole idea was to create a logo and a name that was powerful that would epitomize the warrior class. The Knights are the epitome of the warrior class, the top of the line in terms of defending the realm, defending the unprotected. This is all part of the culture we want to create with the hockey team.”
The NHL announced that Las Vegas would be home to the league’s 31st team after a board of governors meeting in the city on June 22. Not only will the Golden Knights be the NHL’s first expansion team since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild during the 2000-01 season, but they also will become the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to have a team in Las Vegas.
Foley said he went with “Vegas” instead of “Las Vegas” for the NHL team name because that is how most locals refer to the city.
Jerseys for the Golden Knights will not be for sale until mid-February, at the earliest, Foley said. But other items, such as T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, polo shirts, shorts and gym bags, were sold outside the arena shortly after the announcement was made on Tuesday night.
“I think the day upon which you begin to create the identity of a franchise is the day that fans can begin to have their emotional connection to the club,” Bettman told ESPN.com. “And while five months ago to the day we announced that the expansion was going to be a reality, I think today will mark it feeling real … if you’re a fan and you can get a T-shirt or a hat, this then begins to signify the beginning of fandom.”
Shortly after the name and logo for the Golden Knights was revealed outside of T-Mobile Arena, which rests just behind the Monte Carlo and New York-New York Hotel and Casino, hotels up and down the Strip were scheduled to reveal signs welcoming the Golden Knights to Las Vegas.
The team has already sold more than 14,000 season tickets and most of the luxury seats inside the 17,500-seat T-Mobile Arena for next season. While Foley expects games to be popular destinations for traveling fans, he also believes that 85 percent to 90 percent of the crowds during the regular season will be made up of season-ticket holders.
Foley, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, had originally wanted to call the team the Black Knights, after Army’s athletic nickname, but he encountered some resistance. Foley was already the chairman of the board for Black Knight Financial Services and the lead investor in Black Knight Sports Entertainment, the consortium he started along with the Maloof family, which owns the team. He settled on three finalists: Golden Knights, Silver Knights and Desert Knights, before going with Golden Knights in August and working with Adidas on the logo, which was completed in late October.
While the Golden Knights are about 11 months away from playing their first game, the team is slowly beginning to take shape. Foley hired McPhee to be the team’s first general manager in July. McPhee was the Washington Capitals general manager from 1997 to 2014. Kerry Bubolz was hired as team president in October after 13 years with the? Cleveland Cavaliers?and the Quicken Loans Arena organization. And last month, the team broke ground on a state-of-the-art practice facility in Summerlin, Nevada — a suburb located about 15 miles from the Las Vegas Strip and where the team’s offices are located.
The Golden Knights, which will be the eighth team in the Pacific Division and the 15th team in the Western Conference, will acquire their first players on June 21, when their selections from the expansion draft are announced. Las Vegas must select one player from each of the 30 existing teams. Two days later, the team will select their first rookies in the NHL draft. They are guaranteed to have no lower than the sixth overall pick in the draft and will own the third pick in each subsequent round.
“This whole process has really been a whirlwind,” Foley said. “We’ll be playing games before you know it.”
ESPN.com senior writer Scott Burnside contributed to this report.